Race To The White House: The View From Here

02 November 2016

The US Presidential Election is a global event that most have an opinion on – Malaysians included. But how is it like for an American watching the presidential race from abroad? We speak to a few Americans living in Malaysia to find out.

“I think it’s really hard to be someone living in a different country, experiencing how great different cultures can be and to look at someone like Donald Trump, who is just stoking racial hatred,” says architect Henry Kittrell, 30, who has been living in Malaysia for the past six years.

Henry, who will be voting in Denver County in the state of Colorado by post, says that the complexity of race relations and its history in Malaysia gives him a perspective on how well or poorly such an issue can be handled.

Framed as a choice between the lesser of two evils, this year’s US presidential elections pits major nominees Donald Trump, a businessman cum reality television star with a controversial stance on immigration policies, against seasoned politician Hillary Clinton, who has been described as a symbol of the status quo in government that needs to be shaken up.

While the narrative in the US media hints at a divided nation, Henry points out that it would be near impossible to find an American living abroad who would be supporting Trump.

“Being in a country like Malaysia, you become hyper-aware of something like how dividing races can affect the culture overall.”

“And I think with that in mind, when you look at someone like Trump, you can see where the US could be heading, and I certainly don’t think it’s a benefit to society if we’re not intermingling and sharing our experiences,” he adds.

To this day, the reason for Trump’s popularity remains to be a hotly debated subject, with US media outlets mainly attributing it to growing racial and economic anxiety in the country that has led to the appeal towards his rhetoric that can be seen as fanning the flames of xenophobia.

We spoke to a few US citizens residing in Malaysia on their views of the presidential race, watching it all the way from Malaysia.

Unsurprisingly, their thoughts revolved around Trump.

“It’s comical,” Marcus Snowden, 45, says, describing the tone of the campaigning this election season.

The Senior Executive working in logistics, who goes by Snow, says his fascination with the election news this year has very much turned into an obsession, to the point of calling Trump a “marketing genius”.

As entertained as he is by the news coverage, he says it is, however, unfortunate that the bar for campaigning has been “set so low” in regards to the presentation of policies.

With the nature of his business that requires either him or his Malaysian contacts to fly often to the US, he was more concerned about knowing if either of the candidates would address the visa processes for friendly countries as opposed to personal jabs at one another.

“Unfortunately, it’s being run as reality TV,” Snow says.

However, he says he could at least pinpoint Clinton’s plans on carrying out healthcare and education policies while Trump has not put forward “anything other than his negative contributions.”

“If Donald Trump wins, my biggest fear is how I personally will be looked at [by others] and judged as an American,” he says.

Sarah Kajani, 28, who is attached to a local advertising agency, opines that Trump’s popularity can be attributed to his approach of selling a “dream” rather than proposing “realistic” policies.

“People may disagree, but there is a group who are attracted to it. It may or may not be the actual ‘dream’ they are attracted to, but I think it's more the escape that he is giving. An ability for them to escape their current situation and their minds,” she says.

She refers to Trump’s battle cry of “Make America Great Again”, which she finds appeals to Americans who may find their privilege challenged by the growing ethnic diversity in the US.

In her opinion, Sarah suggests that much of Trump’s support stems from an undertow of racial aggression in the US, which directly affects her as a Muslim of South Asian descent.

“I am Muslim, I am a minority, and I am American. So, for me to align with anyone else but Hillary would be basically trying to f*ck my own self up,” she says.

New Yorker Ion Furjanic, 37, who is a Director at film experience company We Are Kix, shares that the Islamophobia rhetoric is a big concern for him as well, despite not being a Muslim himself.

Having lived in Malaysia on and off for the past eight years, he wonders how a Trump presidency would affect relations with Malaysia, saying he never wants to have to be ashamed of his own country.

Which is a legitimate concern, considering Trump has, during his campaigning, called for a “total and complete shutdown” of Muslims entering the US until the country’s representatives can “can figure out what the hell is going on”.

“Trump makes me ashamed to be an American, and it’s for simple reasons. It’s not for policies, it’s not for other things, it’s for simply spreading hate and coming to power through hate. And I can never support that, no matter who the other candidate is, I could never support that,” he says.

And like the others, Ion is disappointed at how the campaigns have been run throughout the race, which had not seen substantial focus on the change either candidates plan to bring about, leaving him to instead judge them based on their personalities and temperament.

“It’s hard for me to focus on the policies of both candidates because so much craziness is in the way.”

“It’s like a cake of policy, and then on top of it is like 20 pounds of icing, and the icing gets in the way of whatever is happening,” he says.

America makes its decision on 8 November. Needless to say, it won’t be a piece of cake.

By Aizyl Azlee

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